The impressive 2024 Jack Kent Cooke Scholars

By Matthew Dembicki

Joseph Gonzalez had only a GED when he came to New York’s Suffolk County Community College (SUNY Suffolk).

Last week, the Army and Marine Corps veteran was named a 2024 recipient of the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which comes with a financial award that will allow him to study history at either Columbia or Princeton, where he has been accepted.

“Everything I have accomplished has been because of this school and its amazing staff and faculty,” Gonzalez said.

And he’s accomplished a lot. The liberal arts student is graduating with a 4.0 GPA, held leadership positions with the college’s chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) honor society and served as president of Student Veterans of America, just to name a few of his accolades.

Across the country in California, Husna Ayoubi, who is majoring in cognitive science at San Diego Mesa College, also received word last week that she is a 2024 Cooke Transfer Scholar. She has been accepted to several colleges but hasn’t selected one yet.

The PTK member also has an impressive list of accomplishments: With her knowledge of five languages, the Afghanistan native served as an interpreter at Fort Bliss in Texas, tutored English-language learners at a local school district, and has already completed the medical assistant program and an externship with a local cardiology urgent care center.

Among her biggest supporters is San Diego Mesa College President Ashanti Hands.

“I am so proud of Husna and Mesa College for such remarkable excellence,” Hands said in a release. “This amazing opportunity will open numerous doors, paving the way for Husna to leave her brilliant imprint on the world, just as she was born to do.”

Eddie Fordham, who joined the Second Chance Pell Experiment program through Miami Dade College, plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in communications and public administration. (Photo: Miami Dade College)

In Florida, Eddie Fordham is among the four 2024 Cooke Transfer Scholars at Miami Dade College (MDC). His path in higher education began in 2021, when he joined MDC’s pilot Second Chance Pell Experiment program, a federally funded effort to help incarcerated individuals obtain a college degree. In April 2022, Fordham was granted parole with just one course missing, which he completed and finally received his diploma, according to MDC. He plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in communications and public administration.

Financial help and services

Gonzalez, Ayoubi and Fordham are among the 60 community college students named 2024 Cooke Transfer Scholars, which includes a last-dollar scholarship of up to $55,000 a year to complete their baccalaureate. Along with financial support, scholars receive opportunities for comprehensive educational advising, internships, study abroad and graduate school funding, as well as a connection to a network of over nearly 3,000 Cooke Scholars and alumni.

“Community college students remain far too underrepresented at our nation’s top institutions, despite clear research demonstrating their success once they arrive,” Seppy Basili, executive director of the Cooke Foundation, said in a release. “Our scholarship is one way we aim to ensure that high-achieving students have the opportunity to complete their degree where they want, regardless of their financial background.”

Several colleges that are members of the American Associations of Community Colleges have multiple students this year earning the honor. As mentioned, Miami Dade College has four recipients, while Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College has three students. Northern Virginia Community College, Mt. San Jacinto College (California) and Wilbur Wright College of City Colleges of Chicago each have two recipients.

This year, the foundation received nearly 1,700 applications from more than 380 community colleges. Applicants were evaluated on their academic prowess, financial need and leadership qualities.

This article originally appeared in CC Daily.

Matthew Dembicki

edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.